|Happy catch: Fish Laugh, one of the photos from the Soul of Viet Nam project.
by Minh Thu
For US photographer Lawrence D'Attilio, fate seems to have handed him many stories to share, a gift from Viet Nam.
"I have been fortunate in Viet Nam," he said.
"Many people have accepted me as a friend and have been open with their experiences. I'm also lucky to be an artist photographer – the work is a quest that takes you to places providing experiences few other foreigners have."
D'Attilio was invited to participate in a three-month artist residency in Ha Noi called Campus Ha Noi. His job was to do collaborative artwork with contemporary Vietnamese artists from Ha Noi.
"It was a happy experience and we think our own artwork became more interesting because of it. We fell in love with Vietnamese culture, people and the country."
D'Attilio and the artists also put on an exhibit working with a Vietnamese artist that would take place at the Viet Nam National Museum of Fine Arts in early 2008. He came again to Viet Nam two more times in 2007 to create the art.
He hoped to accomplish a change in the way people felt about photography and what they expected it to do. To fulfill the project, moved to Ha Noi.
"Living in Viet Nam has many different experiences as compared to living in America," he said.
"But when it comes to people and their feelings and ideas, it is as if no border and no limit exists between Americans and Vietnamese. And given the history of our nation's this is a big surprise."
"When we understand how Vietnamese culture looks at their very ancient history, it is clear to us that people here are disinterested about the horrors of the past, they focus on the successes of the present and the dreams of the future. In that way the Vietnamese people are both remarkable and powerful, and we feel very fortunate to share life with them."
He has learned about culture here by asking many questions of friends, doing a lot of artwork about Viet Nam and its people, and reading books that discuss Vietnamese culture in the present and in the past.
D'Attilio has travelled along the country, met people and took photos of them for his own project "Soul of Viet Nam".
|Experience: For US photographer Lawrence D'Attilio, fate seems to have handed him many visual stories to share. — Photo courtesy of Lawrence D'Attilio
The photos selected from thousands have been displayed in the US and now in Viet Nam. The exhibition will run until December 13 at Work Room Four, Packexim Building, An Duong Vuong Street, Ha Noi. He also published a pictorial under the same name with the exhibition.
He used the word "soul" because it shows the intention in the type of photographs that he takes.
"I have no interest in showing specific individuals or any event that gets people's attention.
"I'm interested in behaviours, the land, and the history. I feel certain scenes indicate things about Viet Nam that makes the country as warm and as human and as we believe it to be."
D'Attilio has another photo project in the northern province of Vinh Phuc. When an NGO asked him to help source donations and loans from Americans, he agreed as it has been among the most successful micro finance programmes anywhere. It helps women in the rural areas secure low interest loans.
He developed an idea for a project to take photographs of the women, their businesses, and their families.
"In the first days that I spent in the villages with these women, I came to admire them a great deal. They were very hard workers and were quite smart."
They were extremely warm with each other and individual staff from the programme.
He has been involved with this programme for eight years and it has been a very fulfilling experience.
"Viet Nam has many reasons to be proud of the 1,600 women who have participated in this programme, and who have created and sustained it for longer than I have been involved in it," he said.
Viet Nam always amazes D'Atillo, from the landscape to culture and people. Once he met a 22-year-old woman, who was an excellent English translator. He assumed that she was from California and perhaps was just visiting relatives there. But it turned out she had never been to America and was a native of Ha Noi.
He was impressed that she had learned a little English in school while most of the English she knew came from playing computer games, which have characters speaking in English.
This young lady began to inform him more about the current computer game world. It was more diverse, more philosophical, more influential, more valuable, more educational, and more spiritual than anything he could have imagined before.
It seems that one of the things that makes up the "Soul of Viet Nam" is the population's thirst for growth in thinking, feeling and experience, said D'Attilio. — VNS